Thursday, May 31, 2018

The Underlying Message of "The Visitation"

From The Five Beasts:
During the Annunciation, the Angel Gabriel informs Mary that her cousin Elizabeth is in her sixth month of gestation, letting her know that though barren and advanced in age, the birth of Elizabeth’s baby, like Mary’s, would be a miraculous event. So here we have a very old woman who had always been barren and a very young girl who had taken a vow of virginity (see here), both pregnant. Mary then travels to visit Elizabeth, “in haste”, and St. Luke reports the remarkable exchange that took place upon Mary’s arrival.
“And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.'”
Two things taken together here strike me as extremely important from a theological standpoint. The First is that Elizabeth was “filled with the Holy Spirit”, meaning that everything she subsequently said would carry theological significance. The second is her use of the word “baby”, “the baby in my womb leaped for joy.” The word for baby in Greek is brefos, and does not imply a fetus or an unborn child, but just as it does in English the word strictly means “baby”. St Luke will use the same word in chapter 2 verse 16, in reference to the shepherds:
“So they went in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant [brefos] lying in the manger.”
So through Elizabeth the Holy Spirit specifically refers to John as a baby in spite of the fact that he is unborn. But there’s more. The “leap” can be explained by what was foretold to Zechariah (Elizabeth’s husband) by the Angel Gabriel,
“[F]or he will be great in the sight of [the] Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb” (Luke 1:15).
So the “leap of joy” was prompted by the baby having been filled with the Holy Spirit, otherwise he would not have leaped. And this is being affirmed by the Angel Gabriel himself. It underscores the fact of baby John’s personhood because only people can be filled with the Holy Spirit. (Read more.)

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